Traders up next on Oilers' radar

CAM MAXWELL, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

At least having the Oilers name hasn't dragged down Okotoks' AJHL club.

Unlike their struggling namesake to the north, the Okotoks Oilers are having the best season in their two-year history as they prepare for Game 1 of the AJHL semifinals tonight in Fort Saskatchewan, a best-of-seven affair.

But the road so far hasn't been an easy one for the Oilers, who needed five games to dispatch the Drumheller Dragons in the opening round -- including two third-period goals from Andrew Owsiak in Game 5 -- then played a tough six-game series against Brooks.

Rookie goaltender Brad Eidsness, who has started all 11 games for the Oilers, knows things haven't been easy for his team and is hoping things go well against the Traders, who are the No. 1 playoff seed.

"We've battled a little bit of adversity and put ourselves in a couple of precarious positions but we got ourselves out of them, so that's a good thing and we can build on that," said Eidsness, 18, who has been rated among the top draft-eligible North American goaltenders.

"We're kind of happy because we've played 11 games and Fort Saskatchewan has only played four in the last month, so we figure we might be a little more battle ready than they are."

Following a first-round bye, the powerful Traders swept Fort McMurray in four games in Round 2.

The Oilers have scraped and clawed their way to where they are and as far as they're concerned, the character of the club has come shining through.

"We have a ton of character and we're a hard-working bunch where we've done some good things, then done some not-so-good things and the whole year we've always seemed to bounce back," Eidsness said.

As an AJHL freshman, Eidsness notes the playoffs are a far cry from the pace and intensity of regular season games and his post-season experience in midget.

"There's plenty of hockey in a short time frame and, with the 19- and 20-year-olds who might be moving on, it's do or die time for them ... so the intensity is there every night and it's been a lot of fun so far," said Eidsness, who has a 2.79 goals- against average with a .906 save percentage.

When the Traders and Oilers take to the ice, it should be a treat for fans because they are arguably two of the speedier squads in the league, with Fort Saskatchewan easily scoring more goals than any other club (286).

"It's speed versus speed," Eidsness said.

"They're probably the fastest team in the league and, after seeing Drumheller and Brooks the last two series, who both like to slow it down, the forwards are really looking forward to it because it'll be their style of game.

"It'll be the fastest hockey we've played to date."

But that may not be so good for Eidsness or his counterpart in Fort Saskatchewan, Shannon Szabados, who could be seeing plenty of flying pucks.

"That's not always a bad thing. I don't mind seeing 40 shots a night. Sometimes it's easier to get in the groove that way," said Eidsness with a laugh.

The other semifinal sees the Camrose Kodiaks taking on the Grande Prairie Storm in a battle between the second and third seeds with the Kodiaks enjoying home ice advantage when the puck drops tonight.

TIGERS TOPS:

The latest Canadian Junior A Hockey League rankings have the Aurora Tigers on top, followed by the Fort Saskatchewan Traders.

The Camrose Kodiaks, who led for most of the season, are third with the Grande Prairie Storm in seventh.


Videos

Photos